North Korea (MNN) — North Korea's new leader has been photographed smiling. He has a wife. He even rode a roller coaster. Don't be fooled, says Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton. "Photographically, he is drawing comparisons–not to his father, Kim Jong Il, but to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea."
What's happening in North Korea is cultivation of an image. "He's doing that in his hair style, he's doing that in his clothing. For us, looking on from the outside, we don't necessarily think that immediately; but to the people of North Korea who ultimately are his audience, they would see that instantly."
A modern face to go with modern ideas? According to contacts working with the Voice of the Martyrs, it's pretty much the opposite. Nettleton explains the connection being made. "This is Kim Il Sung's grandson. This is the founder of our country coming back and taking control and leading us to prosperity and greatness."
The reality is: North Korea faces even more than usual food shortages when drought was followed by devastating floods. Without China's help, mass starvation is likely. Yet, that has done little to challenge the ideology that has shrouded North Korea in secrecy. Nettleton explains "The government is built on the idea of 'juche,' which is their word for 'self-reliance' and really, it is a religious system that is designed to deify the leaders."
The other thing to remember is that the people behind the scenes have not changed. The generals who installed Kim Jong Un as leader are still controlling the strings. Promises of reform are misleading, at best.
Nettleton doesn't think much will change for Christians, either. "When you say 'I'm a Christian,' it's not just the wrong religion: you're really undermining the government. It's really a treasonous thing to say 'I'm not following juche. I'm not worshiping our leaders. I'm following Jesus Christ.'"
Already the most hostile country in which to live and practice the Christian faith, there are still reports of Christians being arrested. According to Open Doors, it's thought that at least a quarter of the nation's believers are languishing in labor camps for their refusal to worship founder Kim Il-Sung's cult.
Anyone with "another god" is automatically persecuted, which is why the 200,000-400,000 Christians in this country must remain deeply underground. Traditional discipleship and evangelism methods do not exist in the totalitarian regime.
However, Nettleton says they've found other creative ways to float the Gospel into North Korea…literally. "We have been sending balloons into North Korea for decades. It's based on some of the technology developed for weather balloons. We can now actually attach a full New Testament to a balloon to float it across into North Korea."
Although many crews pick up the balloons and dispose of the literature, Nettleton says it's still working. "We are hearing stories of these balloons and these New Testaments reaching people and changing lives." Keep praying that the seeds of God's Word will be planted deeply and take root.